Finding your own group: Longing for the cohesion of solo entrepreneurs
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health launched training and peer groups for entrepreneurs as a part of the EntreFox project three years ago. The main reasons for starting the activity were the experiences of lack of peer support and even loneliness among entrepreneurs, as shown by research. Loneliness is a threat to well-being, and periods of social isolation during the COVID period have increased it. In addition, experiences of loneliness often become more common with age. Older self-employed workers, i.e., entrepreneurs who do not employ others, are in a particularly vulnerable position in the face of loneliness.
For many, the opportunity of deciding for themselves about working hours, work tasks and places of work have been reasons to become an entrepreneur. However, this freedom is an indirect reason for loneliness, which in turn reduces the experience of the relevance of work. The relevance of work consists of a sense of belonging, helping others, realizing, and accomplishing oneself. In previous writings, I have discussed with Heli Ansio the experiences of the work of entrepreneurs from the perspectives of self-realization and doing good.
What did the participants in the Entrepreneurship Coaching and Peer Groups share about loneliness, and experiences of cohesion that our activities provide?
The participating entrepreneurs emphasized that regular togetherness and sharing experiences about entrepreneurship was one of the most important gifts of group activities. They repeatedly hoped for stronger co-operation and continuity of said co-operation. In the words of one of our participants:
I wish that there was a team where one would do this and another would do that, that everyone would do their own thing but be a group. I’ve been looking for something like this all my life.
In addition to the longing of the work community, the solo entrepreneurs involved in the project were united by a desire to share experiences with people of a similar workplace and age. They said age is a unifying factor. Among entrepreneurs of roughly the same age, information needs, and interests often meet. For example, the idea of combining work that suits oneself and respects one’s own borders, and possibly retirement and work, were recurring themes.
The coaching and peer teams we conducted as part of the EntreFox project, where we met regularly, either online or face-to-face, responded to these needs for network strengthening and cohesion. However, social support and equality require continuity. What activities and permanent structures will meet these needs after the end of the project? Now is the time to think ahead and make decisions that support self-employed people. I see the potential in shared, communal workspaces not only to increase cohesion, but also to develop new product and service ideas and share work that emerge from collaboration.
But do older self-employed people feel welcome in communal workspaces, for example, or do they feel that they are only for young people?
Originally posted on the 21st of April, 2022